[ISN] Stakes are higher for hackers since Sept. 11, experts say

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Mon Aug 12 2002 - 00:31:21 PDT

  • Next message: InfoSec News: "[ISN] Linux Advisory Watch - August 9th 2002"

    Sun, Aug. 11, 2002
    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - In 1997, a teenager who hacked into a Bell
    Atlantic network inadvertently crashed the computer, leaving 600
    homes, a regional airport and emergency services without phone service
    and disabling communications to the air traffic control tower for 6
    The teen pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 2 years probation,
    a $5,000 fine and community service. But in the near future, that
    scenario could land someone in jail for life if a death were to result
    from a plane crash or a delay in reaching medics on the phone.
    ``That is a realistic scenario,'' said William Reilly, an attorney at
    San Francisco-based Cyber Security Law.
    U.S. prosecutors and judges are cracking down on cyber crimes more
    aggressively than ever, Reilly said. The airplane hijack attacks in
    September have been used to justify harsher treatment for computer
    crimes in the name of national security, Reilly and others said.
    That reality dampened the mood at the 10th annual DefCon hacker
    conference held in Las Vegas last weekend, despite diversions that
    included ``Hacker Jeopardy'' games, a techno music dance party, cheap
    beer and private strippers. The event is the world's largest gathering
    of computer anarchists and rogue programmers, who prefer to operate
    under aliases.
    ``The act of hacking itself has a political dimension,'' said Richard
    Thieme, an author, former Episcopalian priest and father figure to
    many hackers. ``Before Sept. 11, it could not be defined in and of
    itself as an act of terrorism.''
    While most hackers at the event maintained their instinctual distrust
    of authority, some have been quietly offering their skills to the U.S.  
    government since the attacks, experts said. ``There is more of an
    awareness that we're all in this together,'' said Thieme, who spoke at
    the conference. ''They're much more realistic. They've lost their
    Of concern to many hackers is the U.S. Patriot Act enacted late last
    year and a new bill called the Cyber Security Enhancement Act
    overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives last month.
    The Patriot Act raised the maximum sentence for breaking into a
    computer network from 5 years to 10. The Cyber Security Enhancement
    Act calls for up to life imprisonment for hackers who recklessly cause
    or attempt to cause someone's death.
    ``What was a misdemeanor pre-Patriot Act could be a felony now with a
    five- to 10-year sentence,'' said Simple Nomad, a DefCon speaker who
    works for security company BindView Corp. ''That scares a lot of
    As a result, hackers who formerly acted out of boredom or to seek a
    challenge are now directing their energy into ''hacktivism,'' the use
    of computer hacking for political purposes, he and others said.
    For example, there is more research into protecting anonymity on the
    Web. Such technologies include ``digital drop boxes'' and
    steganography, which is the science of hiding messages in things such
    as digital images, Simple Nomad says.
    Pursuits of such evasive technologies even further pits hackers
    against law enforcers who in the 1990s all but lost the battle to
    prevent the widespread availability of strong cryptography, used to
    keep messages secret.
    The FBI and other agencies have stepped up their monitoring of the
    Internet after finding Internet-related information on computers
    seized from Al Qaeda, the group blamed by the Bush administration for
    the Sept. 11 attacks.
    Hackers now ``are more concerned about the political fall-out and that
    the government will take away more of their rights,'' hacker Rain
    Forest Puppy said.
    For some, however, the Sept. 11 attacks prompted a renewed sense of
    patriotism. For example, Thieme says he knows of several hackers who
    are using their skills to aid U.S. intelligence agencies.
    ``There was a huge surge to do the job,'' he said. ``Suddenly the CIA
    and all those (federal) guys weren't the enemy anymore.''
    ``There have been flares and flashes of patriotism that I think a lot
    of hackers hadn't experienced before,'' Simple Nomad said.
    At least one U.S. federal official concurs.
    ``I'm guessing you'll see some of that because the computer
    underground tends to be pretty patriotic,'' said Don Cavender, a
    supervisory special agent in the FBI's computer training unit.
    ``In the three months (immediately) post-Sept. 11, I could have
    reached out to the underground community and gotten a better response
    than before,'' said Cavender, one of the few federal agents at DefCon
    who wasn't in stealth mode.
    ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org
    To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn'
    in the BODY of the mail.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Aug 12 2002 - 02:56:34 PDT